Wednesday, January 11, 2017

REVIEW: Rogue One—A Star Wars for Grownups

Some minor spoilers are contained in the review below. They’re clearly marked, but proceed with caution if you haven’t seen the film!

With the Star Wars franchise successfully reinvigorated following last year’s Episode 8: The Force Awakens, the Walt Disney Co., the new owners of Lucasfilms, faced a new hurdle this past holiday season: the cinematic introduction of an independent Star Wars film not part of the main Jedi/Skywalker saga. With the financial success of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it appears the franchise has found its footing for expanding the universe cinematically.

As others have noted, the movie more closely follows the beats and feel of a war or heist film than the more mythic, epic feel of the main series. Taking a throwaway line from opening crawl of the original Star Wars (Episode 4: A New Hope – “During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR…”) Disney built this film to tell that story.

Briefly, Felicity Jones plays loner Jyn Erso whose father, a gifted scientist, happens to have been forced by the Empire to use his knowledge to build the planet-destroying Death Star. Abandoned when her father was taken and her mother killed, she eventually is recruited by the nascent Rebellion (after rescuing her from being a captive of the Empire) to track down her father and the blueprints for the weapon. She forms a team of rebels to join her on the quest. The story climaxes with the epic Battle of Scarif, as Jyn attempts to transmit the plans to the Rebellion.

Spoiler alert for paragraph immediately after the image below!

For me, the highlight was the thrilling ending and other parts of the movie that connect with and segues into the first Star Wars film, A New Hope (now Episode IV). As rebels pass along the stolen plans, Darth Vader (introduced earlier in the film) attempts to board the ship, but the ship escapes before Vader can do so. (I give credit to director and Star Wars fan Gareth Edwards for making the terror of facing Vader the most palpable I've ever seen on screen.) Viewers familiar with the series will immediately recognize the spacecraft as the Tantive IV, Princess Leia’s consular ship seen at the very beginning of A New Hope. This scene is immediately followed by the plans begin given to Princess Leia who will next be seen at the beginning of Episode IV, with a young Carrie Fisher brought to life in this film by CGI—technology used more extensively earlier in the movie to make Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin a central character in the film. This scene immediately feeds into the beginning of A New Hope—in fact, I re-watched that film with my children the very next day (followed by a viewing of The Force Awakens).

I should note that even minor characters from the series are brought back, most notably in the Battle of Scarif sequence, as many of the rebel fighters seen in the Death Star battle in A New Hope appear in this film, courtesy of unused footage from the earlier 1977 film.

While some have exhorted that “This is the best Star Wars ever!”, I wouldn’t quite go that far—while ultimately poignant, the characters frankly aren’t quite as memorable. (In my book, Daisy Ridley set a very high bar as a Star Wars protagonist in her portrayal of Rey in The Force Awakens, making her a worthy successor to Luke, Leia, Han of the original trilogy.)

Minor spoiler alert here: 

With its dark ending and message of real sacrifice, Rogue One is the first Star Wars film made expressly for grownups and especially for the audience who saw the original Star Wars as kids and took the story and characters very seriously. Here is the film that goes beyond the kid-friendly, fairytale tone of the previous films and treats it as “real”—as many of us believed and wished it to be when we were young.

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